In June of 2006, You Learned:
HOW TO KICK PEOPLE HOPES YOU GET SICK..
We've got a really nice and diverse assortment of performers on the show this evening, including one of my favorite people and McSweeney's latest author, Evany Thomas, in all the way from San Francisco. (I dare you not to be charmed by her. I FUCKING DARE YOU.)
Plus, tonight Bob & I provide a convenient and free service for select H2KP audience members: we will help you compose your suicide note, onstage.
HOW TO KICK PEOPLE HOPES YOU GET SICK
with Bob Powers & Todd Levin
and featuring the enviable talents of:
EVANY THOMAS - author, The Secret Language of Sleep (McSweeney's Books)
MATT GOLDICH - has appeared on Comedy Central's Premium Blend
JOHN MULANEY - co-creator of 'I Love the 30s' and 'All Access Middle Ages' on Comedy Central's Motherload; co-host of excellent weekly show 'Oh, Hello'
Tonight, June 28th at 7:30pm
at Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction
34 Avenue A, between 2nd and 3rd Streets
for advanced tickets, candid photography and more information: www.howtokickpeople.com
HOW TO ADDRESS A LIKE-NAMED CREATURE (AND OTHER TINY TERRORS).
When greeting someone who shares your first name, it is simply impossible to address that person without any kind of coy inflection in your voice. I've tried it, and it just can't be done. And the thing is, both parties are painfully aware of this awkwardness but they're helpless to its sucking energy.
I have a friend named Todd and whenever I see him my voice hitches for a moment, trying to erase any difference in pitch. It's not funny that we both share the same name. He knows this and I know it as well. Just like I know it's not funny when you have a friend named River and someone asks, inexplicably, if he's "related to River Phoenix." (It's also just plain not funny when you have a friend named River. Take a mental note of that.)
But no matter how hard we try, we fall into that idiotic back-and-forth. "Hey, Todd." "Hey, Todd." And then we both google our eyes, and jump backwards, like Bazooka Joe reeling from one of Mort's zingers. And we hate it. I'm thinking about cutting off my friendship with Todd, and he's probably been thinking about it for a while, too.
There are certain behaviors and judgments I am powerless to resist. That office-humor-laced exchange is one of them. I feel like I've commented on this before, but I have one very specific fear of judgment that is (hopefully) entirely self-motivated. I cannot help but feel other people are regarding me with anti-Semitic prejudice anytime I eat cole slaw. It's so irrational, but if I'm in a restaurant and I scoop some cabbage out of a slaw cup I get this creeping feeling that everyone in the room is looking down their noses at me, thinking, "Will you look at that Jew? He's like an animal, hunched over that cole slaw."
Do other Jewish people suffer from a weird insecurity about their eating habits? Are they extra tidy or withholding of pleasure when eating pickles or spare ribs for fear of being rounded up? It surely sounds insane to everyone else, but I wonder if other minorities experience similar anxiety from their own ordinary, innocuous behaviors. Are Mexicans incapable of divorcing themselves from a touch of self-conscious embarrassment whenever they sit down for a nice long nap beneath a tree, with their sombreros lazily tipped forward?
HOW TO BE A STUBBORN BOY.
I'm not sure I like the way I dress. Today, while walking through Bryant Park, I saw a European man smoking a cigarette and finishing up a cell phone conversation. He was about my age, maybe a year older. Let me break down what we were each wearing:
Navy-blue wide pinstripe two-button Italian suit with somewhat wide lapels. Dark violet dress shirt and dark pink necktie, impeccably knotted. Shiny black shoes. Wristwatch.
Five year-old faded blue jeans, frayed at the cuff. Shortsleeve, train engineer blue button-down shirt by Paul Frank, a desinger who built his business cute purses and t-shirts with a monkey face on them. Silk necktie around my wrist. Black Chucks. Backpack.
Compared to this nattily dressed European man, I felt like a child — and not just because I was holding a balloon and my face was covered in ice cream cake. Lately, I've wished I had more mature clothing. I often look through my closet in the morning and feel discouraged and embarrassed by how childish my wardrobe seems. I have one pair of shoes reserved exclusively for weddings and funerals, and they're stuffed somewhere beneath more than a dozen pairs of sneakers, and one pair of Gripfast combat boots. Somehow, without realzing it, I've become one of those old guys who hangs out at bars and rock shows alongside normal youths, wearing his moth-eaten BIG BLACK t-shirt and army fatigue shorts. One of those "just grill it" dudes who still gets a boner over the prospect of free hotdogs at his buddy's cookout, or free Dasani mini-bottles in the conference room left-over from someone else's meeting.
I am not even sure I would know how to change. The thought of starting over is just too daunting, but that's exactly what I'd have to do if I were to take decisive action. I'd have to donate a lot of "DO THE BARTMAN" t-shirts to Goodwill, just to wipe the slate clean and make room for wide whale corduroys, Beatle boots and silk blouses, or whatever it is grown men are supposed to wear.
I remember when I first started watching Mr. Show on television. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross began each show by walking out onstage to chat with each other and the audience. Bob would always wear a suit and tie, while David would wear a bowling shirt or "funny" t-shirt, long shorts, and sneakers. (Sometimes he would even add a very unfortunate vintage pork pie hat.) When these episodes first aired and I was 24 years old, I thought David was much cooler, and that Bob was hopelessly corny.
Now when I look at those episodes, remembering that both of them were already in their thirties when the show was on TV, or when I saw David, pushing 40, on the Kimmel show in a Kid Millionaire t-shirt from Urban Outfitters, I actually grow a little embarrassed for Mr. Cross. (Not that he needs me to get embarrassed for him. Or wait. Maybe he does need it.) It's the same kind of cringing embarrassment I felt for myself today, standing next to that European man and his thin cigarette, as I fished a frog out the front pocket of my overalls.
I don't wish to have all the trappings that I imagine come with possessing a wide pinstripe two-button Italian suit — a subscription to The Wall Street Journal, a mini-humidor, a girlfriend with cocaine residue and skin cancer freckles between her overtanned breasts, the relentless pursuit of money for its own sake. (It is probably a further testament to my immaturity that there is still some small part of me that believes these very specific lifestyle choices are requisite for anyone who owns an expensive suit.) I just admire and fear men who can put an outfit together that doesn't include a Swatch.
There is a scene i the film Bottle Rocket that nicely captures the mix of envy, admiration and contempt I feel for men who dress like men. (I'm sure I'm para-remembering it so there will probably be some inaccuracies in my description.) Dignan (Owen Wilson) is wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit and riding a scooter, and he's talking to Anthony, who is just finishing a jog. While they're talking, Futureman (a kind of asshole jock who torments Dignan and his friends pretty much throughout the film) cruises up in his pick-up truck and, after harassing Anthony and Dignan for a bit but before driving off, shouts some sort of unkind remark about Dignan's outfit.
This leaves Dignan feeling a bit deflated, and he becomes self-conscious about his very ridiculous looking bright yellow jumpsuit. To make him feel better, Anthony says [referring to Futureman's uptight jock uniform], "Well look what he's wearing!" And Dignan, still wounded, replies in all seriousness, "Yeah, he looked pretty cool, huh?"
HOW TO SUSPECT YOURSELF.
I am pretty sure I reek right now. I can't tell for sure but I've noticed a distinct cowboy smell in the breeze whenever I twist my body very fast. I get like this sometimes, panicking about a smell in my vicinity, always suspecting myself as its source. In the past I've asked my girlfriend — on the down-low — to sniff me in public, and reassure me that whatever it is I'm smelling isn't actually coming from my skin or clothing. I'll describe the notes of the odor, just so she can distinguish them from regular NYC stink: "metallic but shitty", "swampy", "like a New York Sports Club shower around 6:45pm on a weekday", "like the owner of a dim sum restaurant just farted" etc. My girlfriend is pretty awesome.
I'm actually very fastidious, but that does not prevent me from thinking I'm the offender behind every stink I smell. I have wondered, lately, if it's all related to denim care. When I was a kid, my mother washed my jeans after every single wear. She was obsessed with germs, and I am very much her son. Later, as I grew independent, I washed my jeans less often. They take up a lot of space in a dryer and I had to conserve. This meant I would wash jeans after three or four wears, maximum.
Recently, I bought a pair of jeans and the instructions inside (written in Swedish) explained that I should wear them for 60 days before washing them for the first time, in order to preserve their "rinse." That seemed insane to me and I don't think I ever made it 60 days, but I came pretty close. Since acquiring those jeans my laundry timetable has been completely off. I have a lot of pairs of blue jeans—I don't really wear much else—and because of the volume of denim and my newly erratic washing schedule, I'm never sure when jeans are ready to be cleaned. Unless I've actually done something obviously smelly in them — dumpster diving, fish storage, hobo smearing — I usually just fold them up and put them back.
Now I'm wondering if I'm wearing jeans that were seasoned with sweat, then air dried, and now thanks to a suddenly raised body temperature caused by some kind of fast-paced activity, I've naturally unlocked the sweaty flavor of my jeans once again. I don't know if it's even true; the smell might have been generated by a co-worker, after all. But that hasn't stopped me from wildly swiveling in my chair, hoping to catch a cool blast of stink-air generated by my motion.
UPDATE: A minute ago I purposely dropped a pen in that "oops! I'm a very clumsy seductress!" manner women follow in shitty comedy movies and European softcore pornography. But when I bent over to pick it up, I used the opportunity to smell my own lap. Coast is clear.
HOW TO FIND YOUR CRAZY.
When you're waiting to use a public restroom in New York and the wait becomes excessively long, it can usually only mean one of five things:
- Someone doing heroin (East Village, LES)
- Someone doing cocaine (Upper West Side, Williamsburg)
- Someone having sex (Chelsea/meatpacking district)
- Someone making dirt (Virgil's BBQ)
- A homeless person doing something absolutely super crazy that will render the bathroom utterly useless for future patrons (2,000 convenient locations in Manhattan)
I had one of those experiences recently, where I was waiting to use a bathroom at Krispy Kreme and the current occupant was taking a little too long for the (coffee + doughnut) x mass + distance = BATHROOM TIME math to work out. Finally, after about eight minutes, a scruffy-looking black gentleman scurried out of the bathroom, eyes cast down, and made a beeline for the front door.
As I entered the bathroom, I witnessed the scene in a kind of Hitchcockian jump-editing horror. There was shit everywhere — in the toilet; heavily streaked across the toilet seat and on the tank; on the walls, sink and mirror. There was even an impossible curlique of dry-brushed feces on the ceiling.
Even though I really needed to use the bathroom, I immediately spun on my heels, ran out and down the street, flailing my arms and sobbing hysterically. Mostly, I was worried the proprietors of Krispy Kreme would think I was responsible for the mess. I have that look, after all.
Of course, I could never be responsible for that kind of mess. Covering a public restroom's walls with your own (or borrowed) shit is a very particular kind of insanity, and not one I expect I'll ever inherit. I've thought about this a lot, actually, because I see all breeds of crazy every single day. If I live in New York long enough, mental illness is probably just an unfortunate inevitability, just like being a resident of Chernobyl pretty much guarantees you will give birth to a child that can shoot laserbeams from his penis.
I have a pretty good idea of what kind of crazy person I'll become. I picture myself in my fifties, curled up in a seat at the far end of a subway car. I'll be dressed in a filthy, quilted down winter coat 365 days a year, with two pink CONWAY shopping bags at my feet, stuffed with my dirty laundry, candy wrappers, and tons of old, obscure paperback books I scavenged from hours and hours of browsing the Strand's outdoor discount racks. I'll be wearing an extra-large pair of Coby headphones, all wrapped up in Scotch tape, with a harmless bubblegum pop song from the 1950s, like "My Girl Lollipop" blasting from them at a volume so high that even though I'm wearing headphones the rest of the train passengers can clearly make out the song's melody and lyrics. Occasionally I'll laugh very loudly, or mutter, "I can goddamn dress myself, MOTHER" into my sleeve. I won't bother anyone, really; the worst I'll do is take up an extra seat on the train and smell like damp walnuts.
I can't imagine myself ever becoming one of those shit-smearing crazy guys, though. It's not that I can't picture myself doing something so filthy; it's just that I have a hard time finishing projects I've started. And painting an entire bathroom with your own dirt is a big job. I still have posters I haven't framed or hung. I'd hate to get halfway through smearing my shit across a bathroom's walls, then get bored or distracted, give up, and feel bad about myself for the rest of the day, which is exactly what I'd do.
HOW TO WATCH YOUR CATS BECOME MORE FAMOUS THAN YOU.
Last Friday night, both of my cats were featured on television. More specifically, their floating heads figured into a "catnip freakout" sequence on Comedy Central's Stand-Up Nation with Greg Giraldo. I have to admit I was sort of tickled by the whole thing, and rewinded it on my TiVo many, many times.
You can watch the video by going here and clicking on the large video link that says, "CAT SHOW." The catnip trip is toward the end of the clip. If you can identify my cats in it, then you read this site too often. And you MIGHT BE A REDNECK.
HOW TO METE OUT JUSTICE WITH A STRONG SHOVE.
Last night some words were had on a slow-moving G train from Greenpoint. The first set of words came from an older Hispanic gentleman. He was celebrating Puerto Rican pride with a friend, by yelling in drunken Spanish and smoking a cigarette on the train.
The second set of words were delivered by a young, white woman who was the very picture of North Williamsburg gentrification—H&M army jacket, fixed-gear bicycle, and a scruffy sense of political activism and civic pride that someday will calcify into exacting self-righteousness played out with a series of handmade signs around her apartment building, bearing messages like "THIS TREE NEEDS WATER, NOT DOG PEE" and "PLEASE STOP YOUR VAL-PAK TERRORISM NOW!!" Having no apparent Puerto Rican pride of her own, she was admonishing/lecturing the older gentleman on his special day.
"You're smoking on the train. Do. Not. Smoke. On. The. Train." Her words were clipped, like she was assembling sentences with something called SEVERELY DISAPPROVING MAGNETIC POETRY. As she lectured the old man, he waved her off and took turns dragging from his cigarette and chuckling in Spanish. ("Chuckling in Spanish" is also a very dirty sex act that involves a large meal, some nitrous oxide and a diaper attached to a slingshot.) While he chuckled and smoked, she continued.
"Stop. Smoking. Now."
"Seriously. Stop. It's. Illegal. You. Are. Making. All. Of. Us. Sick. With. Your. Smoking. Can. You. Understand. Me?"
"Stop. It. Stop. It. Stop."
Finally, she resorted to the quintessential square-and-angry-and-struggling-to-relate-to-inner-city-types plea: "That's not cool, man. That's NOT COOL." Whenever I hear those words—and I've even said them myself, after exchanging a lot of angry dialogue with 10 year-old black kid who had hurled a rock at my girlfriend as she rode by on her bicycle—I get a horrible feeling in my skin, like all the Caucasian is racing up to the surface. Spike Lee perfectly captured this particular kind of inter-racial discomfort in Do the Right Thing, when John Savage (in his Celtics jersey – get it?) had some loud words with a group of black teenagers after accidentally scuffing one of their brand-new Air Jordans. ("Them shits is broke!")
In the battle of Puerto Rican Pride vs. Civic Pride, it was a dead heat. The more the young woman scolded the old man, the more drunk and cigarette-crazy he seemed to get. Finally, the conductor popped his head out and explained that cops were on their way. (The young girl took this as a win for her team, and warned the old man that now the cops were coming and he was going to have to pay $100 for smoking and no one could go anywhere because we were all stopped thanks to him and I hope you're happy. He was, by all accounts, happy.) Moments later, three uniformed officers entered the train and ordered the old man and his pal to vacate the train. While this was happening, the young girl and her friends were helpfully pointing out where the old man had hastily discarded his cigarette.
Perhaps their Puerto Rican pride was radiating too strongly, because the old men refused to exit the train. (Or didn't understand the request.) A minor scuffle broke out and, finally, two of the officers lifted the drunks out of their seats, their old arms waggling, grabbing at the air, and roughly escorted them off the train with a hearty shove. The train doors closed, and we all proceeded in silence.
Though I was sorry to see the old men go, it was kind of interesting to see how the situation was handled. Sometimes I forget that police officers can just grab people and shove them out of a train, and that's just called "protecting and serving." If anyone else had done that (and many of us were surely thinking about it) it would have been considered short-tempered, and possibly a little insane/dangerous. But the police intervention seemed pretty reasonable.
Honestly, whether they were wearing police badges or Batman costumes, the uniform really does justify certain types of behavior. I only wish one of the officers had turned on the young girl, pushed a finger into her collarbone, and said, "And you: calm the fuck down. Your lack of Puerto Rican pride disgusts me! NOT COOL." because that was the other thing I really wanted to do but was too afraid it would make me look crazy.
HOW TO VISIT NYC'S ALTERNATIVE COMEDY SCENE, THE COMEDY CENTRAL WAY.
If you have a computer you can see me on a new show at Comedy Central's broadband experiment, Motherload. And here's where it gets complicated...
If you go to the Motherload home page like so, you'll see one of two things:
1) If you are a PC user – you'll see a glorious landscape of colors and shapes and movement, with well-organized links to Motherload content.
2) If you are a Mac user – you'll see a scorched wasteland of gasoline fires and broken dreams, where Humongous rules the chaos.
You will also see an image and link somewhere near the bottom of the page that looks almost exactly like this:
Now you're probably getting cocky and thinking, "I got this, chief. I just click on that underlined hyperlinked text, like so, and voila! I am all of a sudden watching a clip of you performing and such." WELL YOU ARE SO WRONG I COULD SMASH YOUR FACE.
Because if you click that link, instead of watching a clip of me performing, you will get to watch a clip of Jessi Klein performing at the same show. (She is very, very funny comedian, if you weren't already aware of this, so watching her perform is not such a bad deal; just a weird, unexpected one.)
But don't worry: once your pop-up window displays the video clip of Jessi, there's also no intuitive way from there to find the actual clip of me performing. In fact, the only way I could find the clip was by clicking a button labeled, "BROWSE ALL VIDEOS," then clicking on a link for "The Clip Joint" (down at the very bottom), and then a link to my video clip which, as of tonight, is the only video listed as part of the Clip Joint. (That's right—even Jessi's Clip Joint video, which you probably just watched accidentally or on purpose, is not listed as part of the Clip Joint.)
Sorry I made you read all of that because there actually is a more direct way to watch the video, thanks to my obsessively narcissistic digging. You can click on this link. Or, if that doesn't work (and why should it, really?) you can go to my secret special garden page on the Comedy Central web site, and click the video link labeled "Thanks you notes." (Which is comedycentral.com-speak for "thank you notes.") And after all that, you will see an edited clip of some junk I did at a live show that was filmed (using inexpensive security cameras and the 'Grizzled' lens filter, it seems) for The Clip Joint. Who's sleepy?!!
I know this is kind of self-absorbed but I'd also like to take a moment to point out the difference between the photos of me from Premium Blend (taken August, 2005) and The Clip Joint (taken less than six months later, in February, 2005):
Oh man, what happened to me? In just a few short months I went from being America's long-eyelashed comedy sweetheart to an American Werewolf in London. I sincerely look like I have lycanthropy. Rough around the edges. In fact, I just received this text message on my Sidekick from Jan Michael Vincent: "buddy boy, get some sleep. you look like shit. l8r, j-rock."
I do hope you get to watch the video and, further, I hope you enjoy it. It was nice of Comedy Central to include me in this project, and very brave of them to film the show during a full moon.
P.S. Because I feel guilty turning this web site into some horrible progression of press releases in lieu of actual content, here is my review of the new X-Men film:
I give the story a D-plus and the special effects an X-minus. I've seen more convincing wire work in Mommie Dearest.